Most known recently as a founder of the fast-growing Launchpad Long Island co-working facilities, serial investor Andrew Hazen is not afraid to take a chance. But whether the CEO of Hicksville seed fund/startup accelerator Angel Dough Ventures is nurturing a fledgling tech firm, funneling venture capital into a bold experiment or launching an online bagel-chip company, Hazen always does his homework – and his studious nature gives him front-row access to the bubbling pot that is Long Island’s innovation economy.
GROWING PAINS: I believe the Island’s innovation economy has grown, though not as quickly as we’d all like. We’re still trying to understand what, exactly, our niche should be – but once we define it I think we’re going to shine.
BLAST OFF: In just two years we’ve grown to four LaunchPad locations. Basically, all these entrepreneurs exist and nobody knows about them because they operate out of their homes or at Starbucks. By having them in the LaunchPad co-working environments, we’re getting them on the radar and into our Long Island ecosystem
DRAINED: What scares me most is the cost of living, and the fact that younger entrepreneurs don’t want to stay here because of the lack of entertainment and nightlife options big cities offer. There are great programs like Start-Up NY that can offset some of a startup’s overhead, but it’s still very expensive to live here. We don’t lack talent – our universities turn out great candidates – but a lot of them leave to take jobs in New York, Chicago and Boston. That scares me a lot.
ISLAND LIVING: There are plenty of benefits to living on Long Island. We have great beaches and restaurants. You have the Nikon Theater at Jones Beach and Westbury Theater and the Paramount. You have boating and the arts component, and you’re just 35 or 45 minutes from the city, so you get all those benefits. There’s a lot going on in the area, which is encouraging.
STAYING FOCUSED: The trick is to make sure people know about the positives of living and working on Long Island. That’s what we’re trying to do with the Long Island Angel Network and LaunchPad. But I don’t think everything that can be done is being done. There are some good efforts, like the Nassau County Tech Task Team that [County Executive] Ed Mangano announced in his State of the County address. That’s a plus, but there needs to be more visibility from the government on all levels and more visibility from private industry. Many people know about LaunchPad and it’s going great, but tens of thousands of people haven’t even heard of it.
MIRROR, MIRROR: I wouldn’t say the growth of LaunchPad mirrors the Long Island innovation economy, but they do run in parallels. What’s happening in bioscience, which is taking off here, and what’s happening with Accelerate Long Island, which is doing great stuff, and what’s happening over at Topspin Partners and the Cold Spring Harbor and Brookhaven National laboratories … that’s all wonderful, but it’s not necessarily the same trajectory as LaunchPad. As the innovation economy grows, it will certainly benefit LaunchPad, because there will be more need for space, so I think they do go hand-in-hand. But they don’t need each other to exist.
INVESTMENT IMPERATIVE: There needs to be more dollars available to seed growth. Long Island is an affluent region and there are people with money to invest. I’d like to see them get more involved. The Long Island Angel Network is doing about two deals a year. I’d like to see four or six deals a year. That’s why we have events like the annual shareholders meeting, where guys like myself bring in new people who are successful and looking to invest in green technologies and consumer products. I’ve always maintained it’s not a problem getting money if you have a great idea. The problem is getting people to know about it.
WHY STAY: First and foremost, happy wife, happy life. I literally married the girl across the street from me in South Bellmore, and we both have family here, so I’m not picking up and moving. The business reality is, I can have conversations about putting LaunchPads in places like Atlanta or Boca Raton and still be here, where we have a top education system and benefits like the city and the beach. I can expand and still live with my family and friends.
SPRINGING ETERNAL: I’m very hopeful about Long Island’s innovation economy. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight, but I’m hopeful. I think we can identify our niche and then get down to what’s really needed – affordable housing that keeps young people here. People want to live in suburbia. It just takes careful planning.